By Bill Kirk and Mark Vogler
LAWRENCE — Eight residents of a two-family house at 9 Lafayette Ave., were rushed to the hospital late last night after what police said was a blaze that may have been sparked by an overly dry Christmas tree.
Several people had to jump from the second story of the burning building to escape flames that were so intense they melted the siding on five, adjacent houses in the crowded neighborhood off Broadway. The building at 9 Lafayette Ave. was completely destroyed in the 3-alarm fire and two nearby houses also caught fire. The fire began at approximately 11 p.m.
The people injured suffered from smoke inhalation and may also have been injured jumping from the building, police and firefighters said. Initially, police and firefighters were told people were still trapped in the 2-family house in a neighborhood in the southwestern part of the city not far from the Andover town line.
Lawrence police officer Miguel Romero said that when he arrived, “the whole house was in flames. The second floor was engulfed in flames.”
He said the 8 residents from both families got out of the house.
He added, “I asked how the fire started, and they said it was the Christmas tree.”
Lawrence Fire Chief Jack Bergeron said it may be some time before fire investigators determine the actual cause of the blaze, which caused fire damage to the two buildings flanking the home that burned.
“The fire did get into one of the buildings here on the left and did cause fire damage to the building on the right,” Chief Bergeron said, as he glanced at the charred remains of the two-family house.
“The building is a total loss. A 2-family house in this neighborhood is at least a quarter of a million dollars and that doesn’t even include the contents of the building that was lost,” Bergeron said. “We had a problem with power line. It came down on chain link fence on the front and created a dangerous scene,” he said.
The fire was the equivalent of a 4 or 5-alarm blaze, because other communities had to be called in to cover other parts of the city, according to Bergeron.
Police Officer Chris Bussey said he was concerned about several juveniles living in the home.
“They had soot on their faces like they had been eating smoke,” he said. “And they were barefoot. A couple people jumped out from the second floor.”
They were all taken to the hospital to get checked out, he said.
“My concern was for one young girl, with all that soot on her face, she had to be breathing a lot of smoke,” he said. “I was worried about smoke inhalation. That was one of the fastest moving house fires I have ever seen.”
Next door neighbor Nader Hamda, 29, who lives on the second floor of 15 Lafayette Ave, immediately adjacent to burning building, said he was woken up by screaming.
“I was sleeping, and i woke up and heard kids screaming and crying,” he said. “I looked out the window and everything was on fire. In 10 minutes, the house was burned.”
Firefighters from nearly a dozen area cities and towns are helping at the scene and providing back-up assistance at the central and outlying stations.
Kat Powers, Communications Director of the American Red Cross of Eastern Massachusetts, said two teams were dispatched to the intersection of Lafayette and Pere Marquette avenues early today to assist victims affected by the fire.
"There are people who have been put out by smoke damage," Powers said. "People in the Fire Department told us that people in five buildings were all affected and they are all from this one Lafayette Avenue event. Our whole Merrimack Valley team is on alert. We will send more teams to Lawrence if we need help."